Transcript below from Marriage Steps Podcast Episode 12 on Four Keys To Resolving Conflict in Marriage.
Today I'm going to focus on four keys to resolving conflict. To start with, why should we care? Why should we care about conflicts and how we manage conflicts in our marriage? Is that even an issue? I would argue it's a massive issue. Some studies I've read say how a couple handles their conflict is one of the biggest predictors of possible future divorce. So it can make a big impact on a couple. It makes sense if we think about it because in conflict we often become harsh or we avoid the conflict, and both are toxic. When we avoid and sweep things under the rug, we often withdraw emotionally, become passive aggressive, or we become snippy. I would argue that all couples need a tool on how to manage conflict and ideally they would agree on what tool they're going to use. Think about a toolbox. Every married couple needs a toolbox, a metaphorical toolbox, to reach in to for certain tools based on what they're facing. And conflict is a big one. So you need to be able to agree on the tool in your toolbox you're going to use. The tool I use in my marriage and train couples to use is called The Floor Method. There's a lot of conflict resolution skills out there with varying methods and this is one I've pieced together through the years.
Conflict Resolution in Marriage
The floor has four steps. Each of these steps are very important. You don't want to skip any of these steps or it won't work. Step one of the floor is de-flood. By definition when you are flooded, your heart rate is above one hundred and your body goes into fight or flight. When you're in that state, the blood flow goes to your core because your body is getting ready for fight or flight. And so it cuts off the blood and oxygen to your brain and that's why it can be hard to focus when you're upset and why you say things you don't remember. So step number one is to recognize when you're flooded and to take a break to de-flood. You have to learn what it looks like for you when you get flooded. Maybe your face feels hot or you have tingling in your head, or you have a pit in your stomach. You must learn to recognize your signals and your partner's signals so you can call a time out and say flooded. The word flooded indicates you need to take a break from the conversation. So step one means that both you and your partner would agree that if one of you gets flooded, you're going to take a time out. It takes at least 20 minutes to de-flood, and I would recommend taking no more than 24 hours. You don't want to use de-flooding as an excuse to never come back and resolve the topic. And some people do that. They'll say, "oh yeah, sorry, flooded again, can't talk about it." "Oh, whoops, flooded again, sorry." Don't do that. Don't use it as an excuse to avoid. But if you're feeling flooded or your partner's feeling flooded, say the word flooded and give yourself at least 20 minutes up to 24 hours to calm down. During the break, do whatever is going to physiologically calm you down. You have to get out of the fight or flight posture for your heart rate to slow down and for blood to go back to your brain so you can think clearly. So whatever's going to lower your heart rate is what you should do during the de-flooding time, such as exercising, sleeping, listening to music, etc. During the de-flood time be thinking through what you're feeling and why and how much of the problem is your fault, the situation, or your partner's fault. Once you've done that, come back and now you're ready for the next step.
The next step is called speaker listener and some of these strategies you may be familiar with. The speaker has to hold an object to signify they have the floor. I always joke with couples and tell them to make sure it's something soft because the object will be thrown back and forth several times. So no bricks, knives, etc. When you're the speaker, the first guideline is you are not allowed to say the word you or always and never. You is accusatory. Always and never are generalizations. Your partner is going to hate both of those if you use them. If you say you they're going to feel attacked. If you say always or never they're going to think of the exception when that did not occur. The second guideline for the speaker is you want to identify and express your tender underbelly. Anger is usually a secondary emotion. Think of it like the hard crust on top of a pie and underneath is something soft like the filling of a pie. Underneath your harsh anger is probably something soft like hurt, sad, scared, insecure, hopeless, lonely, etc.That's what you want to identify and express because if you express anger, your spouse is going to feel attacked, but if you express your tender underbelly, it will naturally pull at their heartstrings. The next guideline for being the speaker is you want to keep what you have to say in 1-2 minute soundbites. You may have six things you need to say; however, each point needs to be expressed in one to two minute soundbites and then pause so your partner can do their part as the listener. The reason that's in there is because some of us power talk when we are upset and won't shut up. And then it's almost impossible for our partner to track everything we're saying and they tune out. The last guideline for the speaker is the trigger question. Ask yourself if what you're feeling reminds you of anything you ever felt growing up. if I'm feeling rejected from my partner, did I ever feel rejected growing up? If I'm feeling voiceless with my partner, did I ever feel voiceless growing up? If I'm feeling criticized from my partner, did I ever feel criticized growing up? You want to ask that question because sometimes when we get upset what our partner has done is rubbing up against a wound from our past that has nothing to do with them. Now that doesn't mean your partner is innocent because they probably did something that's encouraging you to feel that way. However, it also means it's probably not 100% their fault because you're probably having a wound get stirred up from your past. So ask yourself that question and then share it as the speaker. Now the other person is the listener and the listener can only do two things and they're both empathy based. They can either say, "I can see how you would feel......" and they repeat back the speaker's tender underbelly and why they feel that way. Or they can say "that makes sense that you feel......" and they repeat back the speaker's tender underbelly and why they feel that way. Now, the challenge for the listener is saying these comments when it doesn't make sense to them or they can't see why their partner feels what they do. If empathy towards your partner is contingent upon if you would feel the same thing, you're going to empathize rarely. And that's not empathy if you're only thinking of the situation from your perspective. Empathy is when you have to get out of your shoes, walk over and put on your partner's shoes and think back to the trauma they went through in childhood, their insecurities, their temperament, their value system, etc. All of the things that makes them who they are. If you really put yourself in that mindset, now it will start to make sense why they are feeling what they are feeling and that's where the empathy comments can come from. So you always can empathize with your partner even if you disagree with them. And that's a very important point. Once the speaker has gotten all their points out, they pass the item to the listener and now you take turns. The listener becomes the speaker and the speaker becomes the listener. Keep going back and forth like this until both of you have said everything you need to say on the topic.
Next, you both need to summarize the other person's perspective to their satisfaction. An interesting side note is in world peace conferences every leader has to summarize the other leader's perspective before they can go into negotiation talks because you can't negotiate on solutions until you can see each other's perspective.The reason I add in "to their satisfaction" is sometimes we'll throw in our own spin or digs such as, "since you're a self-absorbed person, what you want is." So, you summarize your partner's perspective then ask if that's correct and they can edit it as needed.
Now you're ready for the last step, brainstorm on solutions to honor both of you moving forward. It's recommended to start with what you can do different to honor your partner not what they can do different. Once you've exhausted those ideas, then you also can suggest what your partner could do different that you would appreciate. Remember there's no wrong ideas, you're just brainstorming together. Once you've generated several ideas, then decide together which ones you'll implement moving forward. Ideally, both partners would have 1-2 things they will be responsible for doing differently moving forward so both have something to work on.
So that's the four steps to The Floor Method. I would highly encourage you to make an agreement in your marriage that moving forward you're not going to discuss any areas of conflict unless you use The Floor Method. This will protect your relationship instead of damaging it.
Click here for the free marriage podcast
How could this approach transform your conflicts?